Hi there! It’s Fall, which means that Pumpkin Season is officially upon us!
Pull up with your pumpkin spice tea and your coziest cardigan, Beloved. This one’s quite a read. It also includes a picture tutorial so that we can make it together!
In this Post:
About Pound Cakes
The quintessential American pound cake got its name from its ingredients. A pound of flour, a pound of sugar, a pound of eggs, and a pound of butter. In theory, you should be able to take (roughly) a pound of each of those ingredients, with some milk, leavening, salt and other accoutrements added, and come up with a delightfully dense, rich cake with a tight crumb.
For many Black Americans in the United States, the words “pound cake” evoke powerful memories. To this day, pound cakes appear at weekly Sunday dinners and also at special holiday dinners. Pound cake travels neatly with the beloved family who’s leaving to go home after a wonderful visit. Pound cake can be a vehicle for ice cream, but also does just fine by itself. Pound cake still represents home to those who have moved far away from family.
My first memory of pound cake included me watching my mother use her Cuisinart hand mixer to mix her famous 7-Up cake, while telling me stories about what it was like to grow up in Demopolis, Alabama. She told me stories about her first crush, about growing up as the youngest of seven(!) children, and about how my grandmother was love personified while she mixed that batter. We also had some challenging conversations when she told me–over pound cake–what it was like for her as a young Black girl to come of age in the Deep South during the 1950s and 1960s. And every single one of those stories meant everything to me. They mean even more to me now that she’s not here and I’m raising my own children.
When she was done telling stories, that 7-Up cake would be in the oven and and a beater would be in my hand. I understood my assignment. That was the magic of pound cake for me; it was a connection between me and the family that was very far away. Pound cake, to me, meant connection. That connection endures to this day.
There are innumerable stories about Black people boarding buses and trains from Alabama, Mississippi, Florida, and the entire Southeastern United States, heading north and west to Los Angeles, Chicago, Milwaukee, Detroit, and New York during The Great Migration. Those migrants carried with them with bags of homemade rolls, fried chicken, and pound cake. It is a cake that endures even today, connecting generations of families in a special way that many foods cannot.
It is why, when I re-open my custom bakery (The Gloria Bakery) this fall, those pound cakes will be prominently and proudly featured on that menu.
About This Pound Cake
This pound cake in particular was really fun to develop. First of all, it involves pumpkin spice, which I’m told is pretty popular in the fall. Also, because pumpkin is full of water (even the canned stuff!), it presented an interesting challenge for me to get the texture just right.
I love the tight crumb of a well-executed pound cake. It’s just so…satisfying. Plus, I can walk around the house with a slab of pound cake and not have it crumble all over my clothes. #NoJudgmentZone
To maintain that tight crumb with this pound cake, I ended up replacing all of the liquid with semi-solid pumpkin puree. While you can replace canned pumpkin puree with the fresh stuff, the additional water could lead to inconsistency in the cake texture. No worries though! If you love fresh pumpkin, just place your fresh pumpkin puree over a bit of cheesecloth, set in a deep bowl. A couple of hours later, you’ll find that a lot of the water has drained!
Mise en Place
The cake in this recipe has a lot of dry ingredients, which can make it seem like a much more complicated bake than it really is. But once those dry ingredients are tucked into their bowl and stirred together, the rest is easy peasy!
As usual, Beloveds, the secret is in the mise en place. Any recipe can look complicated before your ingredients are neatly prepared and ready to go.
For this recipe, my mise en place looks like this:
As you can see, my dry ingredients are together in their bowl, and all of my other ingredients are separated and measured as well. At this stage, I’m ready to mix!
In the Mix
Like many standard cake recipes, this one uses the creaming method. The creaming method simply means that you mix room-temperature butter and sugar together until the mixture has increased in volume, the the color is lighter, and the texture is much less grainy. You can click here to read more about it.
Proper creaming is absolutely essential for this recipe to succeed. If you’re looking for help to figure out proper creaming technique, I hope that blog post and those videos help you achieve the pumpkin spice pound cake of your dreams!
Here’s what the creamed butter and sugar should look like for this recipe:
Once the butter has reached this stage (~5-7 minutes on low/medium speed in a stand mixer, or ~11-13 minutes on medium speed with a hand mixer), you’re ready to add your eggs. For eggs, add them one at a time and mix each one on medium speed until thoroughly combined. For a recipe with six eggs, I usually scrape the bowl after the third and sixth eggs.
Once all of the eggs are incorporated, your batter should look dreamy and luscious.
Time for your one teaspoon of vanilla and another good mix until incorporated:
After the vanilla, give your bowl a good scraping with that silicone spatula. This is the last time during this mixing session that you’ll be able to mix mix mix to your heart’s content with a machine.
Because now it’s time for that flour mixture. First, add the first half of your flour and mix on lowest speed until just combined. You can even leave a few streaks of flour at this point:
Remember, Friend, that the introduction of flour means the start of gluten development. And too much gluten development will mean a tough cake!
Once you’ve gently mixed your first batch of flour, add all of your pumpkin at one time. Again, mix until just combined. With half of your flour already onboard, you’ll want to reduce the mixing time at this point.
From the “after” picture, above, you can see that the the pumpkin is mostly incorporated, but it’s not completely mixed into the batter. That’s okay! You can stop mixing at this point. Time for your second flour addition:
The mix on the right is where you should stop 🛑 mixing with a machine. It’s at this point that my handy-dandy silicone spatula comes into play.
I use the silicone spatula to get a get a good final scraping in my mixing bowl. Going around the sides and bottom of the bowl, I collect all of the loose flour and then do 10-15 gentle turns around the bowl. The result is always a smooth batter that’s not over-mixed and is ready for the oven.
Into the Oven!
This next part is not a popular opinion.
But I’m going to tell you anyway.
I don’t prepare my cake pans before I start mixing my cake batter. I know this is not a normal recommendation, so feel free to disregard it.
If you’re still reading, hear me out!
In my experience, butter and flour left in a cake pan for too long can cause an unappetizing crust on the outside of my finished cake. One day, purely by happenstance, I forgot to prep a pan before mixing my cake batter, so I just took two minutes after the batter was done and prepped the pan at that time. I’ve done it that way ever since. Before I prep my pan, I also check my cheap-o oven thermometer to make sure that my oven is truly at 325°F. (For my top oven, this means setting it to 335°F.)
You have to work pretty quickly if you choose to prep your pan after your batter! That’s why it’s helpful to take out some extra butter for your pan at the same time that you take out the butter for your recipe.
With all bundt pans, you have to butter them to within an inch of their lives before moving on to the next step. Please, Family, do not fall for the “non-stick” cake pan claims. THEY ARE NOT TRUE. I’m also not a huge fan of cooking sprays, since I find they don’t help produce the caramelization that I like to see on the top of my bundt cakes.
This is what I mean by “butter them to within an inch of their lives”:
After you’ve reached this stage, add flour and maneuver the pan around until you’ve covered all of the buttered surfaces. It’s important to remove any remaining flour when you’re done with this step (I remove extra flour by banging the pan over a countertop or clean sink):
After this step, I gently pour my batter into my prepped pan and gently even out the top with my silicone spatula:
Then it’s onto a baking sheet and into my 325°F oven for 55-75 minutes. The cake is done when a cake tester comes out clean and the top springs back under your finger, OR when an instant-read thermometer reads somewhere between 210°F and 215°F.
At this point, you can place the cake on a cooling rack and place the cake and cooling rack on top of some parchment paper. Allow to cool for ten minutes.
After the ten-minute timer goes off, invert the cake on top of the cooling rack, gently put it down atop the parchment paper, and say a very quick prayer (if you pray).
Then, gently lift the pan and wait for release. While there will inevitably be a few tiny crumbs that are left on the pan, as you can see, the beautiful detail from the cake pan is clearly present in the finished cake.
The Game-Changer: Simple Syrup
::Friends, come close::
This next tip is the real difference between home bakers and pros.
Two words: simple syrup.
Simple syrup is equal parts water and sugar boiled together until they achieve a watery-syrup texture. There are innumerable variations on a “simple” simple syrup, but the most common one is the plain one. For bundt cakes, I find that 1/3 cup of sugar and 1/3 cup of water is a perfect amount.
I make the simple syrup by just adding those two ingredients together, bringing them to a boil, then reducing to a simmer until all of the sugar is dissolved. I do not want simple syrup that has the consistency of corn syrup or maple syrup. I prefer that it be closer to a watery syrup texture, so that it doesn’t grab crumbs from the warm cake when I’m brushing it onto my cake with a pastry brush.
For a great video tutorial on how I use simple syrup on my cakes, check out my YouTube video, entitled “Three Tips for Making Great Cakes”! Specifically, you can jump to 3:15 in the video for the simple syrup technique.
I brushed simple syrup on half of the cake and snapped a quick picture so that you can see the difference:
The Final Glaze
This, Friends, is the hardest part of the proceedings. This is the part where you wait.
Once that warm cake is brushed with warm simple syrup, it’s time to leave.
No, really. Go do something else. Because it’s going to be 3-5 hours before you can touch this cake again for the final glaze.
To make the glaze, mix the maple syrup, maple extract (not mandatory, but extremely delicious), butter, confectioner’s sugar, salt, and cinnamon in a small bowl.
Whisk the mixture gently until combined. Don’t worry about lumps! Just keep stirring gently.
You’re done when the mixture has the texture of honey.
At this point, you can either use a spoon or a spouted measuring cup to pour the glaze on your finished, cooled cake.
That’s it! You’re done! Time to enjoy this wonderful taste of fall that was inspired by the humble, amazing pound cake.
You’re ready! I hope you love this pumpkin spice pound cake as much as my family does. If you tried it and love it, tag me on Instagram @beginwithbutter so that I can see your masterpiece!
I hope you enjoy this little taste of fall from Begin with Butter! I love this cake with my whole pumpkin spiced heart and I can’t wait to see you all make it!
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